Smyth within touch of leader O'Malley

 

Australian Peter O'Malley's early clubhouse lead on day two of the Murphy's Irish Open at Fota Island was never surpassed, his nine-under halfway total 133 provides a one shot cushion, but more importantly from an Irish perspective, Des Smyth is only two shots off the pace and spear-heading the Irish challenge.

"I drove the ball well today, hit a lot of good iron shots and didn't make many mistakes," said O'Malley after today's 67 where he enjoyed a birdie battle with his Zimbabwean playing partner Mark McNulty over the front nine. After carding 10 birdies between them their paths differed on the back nine. Where the former Scottish Open winner continued to make progress, McNulty experienced the down side of the game.

"I set off in a concorde but came home in a VW (Volkswagon)," said the 48-year-old after dropping five shots on the back nine with just one birdie at the 10th. What could have been course record material turned into an 'ordinary' 69 for the Zimbabwean who finished on five-under.

The defending champion Colin Montgomerie continues to be a serious threat after today's 67 leaves him in a share of second on eight-under alongside Germany's Alex Cejka (65) and Sweden's Carl Pettersson (67).

"I'm looking forward to another couple of 67's and I believe I can do that," said Monty after his second consecutive four-under round. "I'm the favourite and a lot of people have put money on me and that's good," enthused Monty who was obviously glad to be back in the spotlight.

Meanwhile,Smyth, who already has his sights set on the Seniors Tour in America when he turns 50 next year, has found form with the help of several adjustments to his swing and equipment.

"I started striking my irons a lot better when I moved the ball further back in my stance," explained the rejuvenated veteran yesterday. "The putter has a lovely feel and this has been my best putting week with it," he added today speaking of the 'Two-ball Odyssey' broom-handle putter he changed to four weeks ago.

Smyth is joined by English duo, Lee Westwood (68) and Mark Pilkington (66), and Sweden's Richard Johnson (67). "I'm delighted to be in the position I am," said Westwood who failed to capitalise on the par fives both days.

As the veteran Irishmen put it to the young pretenders, Eamonn Darcy is next best of the six Irishmen who made the cut. The 49-year-old finished with two birdies at eight and nine, his 17th and 18th, to be five-under. "It's nice to have a good finish and although it was tough out there I enjoyed it," said Darcy.

Padraig Harrington, last year's runner-up alongside Darren Clarke and Niclas Fasth, felt today's 68, to leave him on three-under, could have been a couple of shots better, but the Dubliner still believes he is within striking distance. "My game is there, maybe it just lacks a little bit of spark at the moment. If I hole a few putts early on tomorrow then who knows."

Philip Walton quietly went about his business carding a two-under 69 for the same overall aggregate and can now look forward to pressing ahead in search of a decent cheque at the end of the week.

Darren Clarke must prepare for another early Saturday start in the Irish Open after forcing a birdie on the last, he had to do the same last year, to just make the cut on one-under.

"It's a typical Irish Open for me," remarked a sarcastic Clarke. "If I do something similar to last year then I won't be far away," he said remembering how he a 65 and a 64 shot him up the leaderboard 12 months ago.

Clarke relieved his full-time caddie Billy Foster to be with his wife, who is expecting their second child. JP Fitzgerald, Paul McGinley's regular bagman, stood in and offered invaluable information to his ne employer. JP said to Clarke he needed to go for the green at the par five 18th as there is no point in laying up and missing the cut by a shot. An inventive punched five-iron and two putts from the front edge did the trick.

There was great news for Greame McDowell who also finished one-under to make his first professional cut from two attempts. "I played great after making a few adjustments on the range, my irons were much better today," he said. With no pressure on after making the cut this composed rookie could be worth keeping an eye on over the weekend.

The Irish success stories were nulled in some ways by the nearly men who gave it their all but came up just short. Lisburn's Stephen Hamill (71) and Athlone amateur Colm Moriarty (69) both finished level par. Hamill will feel aggrieved by the costly bogey he took on the final hole to miss out by a shot.

O'Malley leads the way but there is plenty of class bunched up ready to pounce should the opportunity arise. One third of the Irish players who started made it into the weekend which leaves hope for the first home winner in 20 years still very much alive..

Qualifiers
Smyth 67, 68 (-7)
Darcy 69 68 (-5)
Harrington 71 68 (-3)
Walton 71 69 (-2)
Clarke 71 70 (-1)
McDowell 70 71 (-1)

Missed CutHamill 71 71 (E)
Moriarty 73 69 (E)
Higgins 69 75 (+2)
Howley 74 71 (+3)
Dwyer 75 72 (+5)
Hoey 74 73 (+5)
Allan 74 74 (+6)
Fox 73 75 (+6)
Allan 74 74 (+6)
Dignam 74 76 (+8)
Walker 78 74 (+10)
Mooney 73 80 (+11)